One afternoon, a tired-looking dog wandered into my yard and followed me through the door into the house. He went down the hall, lay down on the couch and slept there for an hour.
Since my dogs didn’t seem to mind his presence, and he seemed like a good dog, I was okay with him being there, so I let him nap. An hour later he went to the door motioned for me to let him out and off he went.
The next day, much to my surprise, he was back. He resumed his position on the couch and slept for another hour.
This continued for several weeks. Finally, curious, I pinned a note to his collar, and on that note I wrote, “Every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap. I don’t mind, but I want to make sure it’s okay with you.”
The next day he arrived with a different note pinned to his collar. “He lives in a home with three children in it. He’s trying to catch up on his sleep. May I come with him tomorrow?”
While lighthearted, this points toward the mood of compassion. Compassion can be described as letting ourselves be touched by the vulnerability and suffering that is within ourselves and all beings. The full flowering of compassion also includes action: Not only do we attune to the presence of suffering, we respond to it.
There is a wonderful expression that says:
“Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard.”
It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.
Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice. It can be simple. As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question. “What is life like for this person? What does this person most need?”
If you deepen your attention, you’ll find that everyone you know is living with vulnerability. Everyone is living with fear, with loss, with uncertainty. Everyone, on some level, needs to feel safe, loved and seen.
To be kind, we need to slow down and notice.
Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)